I Love ’80s Slashers: A Look Back At ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (1981)

My Bloody Valentine is a Canadian slasher directed by George Mihalka (Da Vinci’s Inquest TV series) and written by John Beaird (My Bloody Valentine 3-D 2009 – read our retro review here), released on February 11, 1981. The story involves a group of miners who decide to throw their own Valentine’s Day party, but things take a sinister turn… when Harry Warden (Peter Cowper: Oh Heavenly Dog 1980) comes back to Valentine Bluffs to resume his murderous rampage.

My Bloody Valentine is an ’80s slasher that wasn’t on my radar growing up. I didn’t come across the film until I was much older, when I rediscovered my love for slashers. On my first viewing, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. But when the movie was over and the credits started rolling, I felt like I had just unearthed slasher treasure. While I still believe that Bob Clark’s Black Christmas is slasher perfection, My Bloody Valentine comes in right under that classic in second place. So why is My Bloody Valentine  held in such high regard among horror fans and horror critics?

Spoilers Ahead!

The Realistic Approach To My Bloody Valentine

The realism in My Bloody Valentine is one of the reasons I fell in love with the film. You have a small mining town in a place called Valentine Bluffs. It’s the kind of town I grew up in, although instead of mining, it was a small farming town. From the outset of the setting, Valentine Bluffs feels familiar to me.

An Effective Cast Elevates My Bloody Valentine

I also love the realistic approach to the characters in the film. I feel like they are real people, living in a small town and working hard, and all they’ve got is each other. You can sense the close community. I can recall on my first viewing that I liked these characters so much that I didn’t want to see them get knocked off one by one in true slasher fashion. It’s incredibly difficult to watch some of these people, like Mabel (Patricia Hamilton: Anne of Green Gables TV series) and Hollis (Keith Knight: Meatballs 1971), die.

What I also like about them is that they are not your typical slasher characters. Most of the miners are in their early to mid-twenties. It’s refreshing to see something besides a group of immature young teenagers who act silly and infantile. Rather, you have characters that work for a living; most of them are in romantic relationships. They’re good, honest people. As a viewer, I didn’t want to see any evil coming to Valentine Bluffs. I can’t think of too many slashers that make me feel this way.

I believe the actors and actresses who worked on this film are one of the reasons why My Bloody Valentine works so well. First, you have the three main characters’ love triangle with T.J. Hanniger, played by Paul Kelman (Black Roses, Caged Men), Axel Palmer, played by Neil Affleck (Scanners), and the woman both characters are fighting over, Sarah Mercer, played by Lori Hallier (Warning Sign, Night of the Twisters). While I think all three do great jobs in their roles, the love triangle aspect has never appealed to me. I’m much more interested in Axel as a character and why he resumes Harry Warden’s killing spree.

The characters that make a lasting impression on me are the secondary stories. A fan favorite has always been the big, burly, lovable HollisKnight does such a great job making him a fun-loving character that you hate it when he gets killed. You also have Patty, the attractive girlfriend of Hollis, is played by Cynthia Dale (Heavenly Bodies, Moonstruck). 

Every slasher has a class clown, and MBV is no exception. Howard Landers (Alf Humphreys: First Blood 1982) jokes around a lot, but he never goes overboard. I usually find people like Howard annoying, but you can tell he has a heart of gold. I’m thinking of the scene when Howard scares Mabel, and she wants to be mad, but she just can’t stay upset with him. That’s all you need to know about Howard.

I also like Chief Jake Newby, played by Don Francks (The Big Town, Johnny Mnemonic). Newby is your basic straight-laced police chief. I think Francks is a good actor who played his role very well. Probably the most tragic character is Mabel OsborneI can watch teenagers get killed all day long, but something makes me feel uneasy when seeing an elderly lady get mercilessly slaughtered.

My all time favorite character in My Bloody Valentine is, without a doubt, the bartender known as Happy (Jack Van Evera: Black Christmas, A Fan’s Notes). It’s quite ironic that the guy’s name is Happy, because he’s anything but. Let me put it this way: if I was visiting Valentine Bluffs, Happy’s bar would be the first place I would visit. I would love to hear him talk in that low, gravely voice and tell me the legend of Harry Warden. Evera’s distinct vocal tone is why I love the character so much.

I also need to mention Harry Warden, the demented miner. Cowper does a great job at portraying the graceful yet menacing Warden. I’ve heard that he came up with a lot of the character design himself, especially how Harry moved and talked. Cowper made the character his own, and it shows.

The Amazing Special Effects Of Thomas R. Burman

Without question, My Bloody Valentine has some of the most brutal death scenes in all of the slashers. If you’re looking for a Hack N Slash Kills Hall of Fame, or you’re a young filmmaker who wants to study the best death scenes, then MBV would be a great place to start.

Thomas R. Burman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Happy Birthday to Me)and his team of special effects artists should have won awards for their work on My Bloody Valentine. A lot of fans tend to look at Tom Savini’s kill scenes in Friday the 13th as perfection, but I will respectfully disagree and say that Burman’s work is far better. Savini’s work is not as flawless as Burman’s.

There are a lot of great kills, but my all time favorite is the death of my favorite character, Happy. Harry Warden shoves a miner’s pick under the man’s chin which then protrudes out of his eye. It’s a truly gruesome scene, and it looks so realistic. I’ve seen a lot of gore after watching horror for thirty-some years, but My Bloody Valentine has some of the best.

Closing Thoughts

There are always going to be two slashers that will stand above the rest. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and My Bloody Valentine will always be the best the sub-genre has to offer. If Black Christmas is the best slasher from the seventies, then My Bloody Valentine is the ultimate slasher of the ’80s.

I could go on and on about this film. If for some strange reason you haven’t seen it yet, then what are you waiting for? Valentine’s Day is coming up… maybe Harry Warden has a Valentine’s Day card for you!

About Jeremy Adkins

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One comment

  1. Great article Jeremy!